Tag Archive | attention economy

The economy of attention

The phrase that keeps coming to mind as I make sense of the way U.S. society is going is the economy of attention.

These are times of information overload, cacophony of voices, pluralism, multitasking, fragmentation, community, and isolation -to name a few.

It has become an established fact in social psychology that people need attention. Children need attention to develop into healthy, balanced adults.

Everything and everybody is fighting for your attention: your children, your pets, your friends, your twitter friends, mass-media, individual-media, TV, employees.

People and pets will do strange things to get attention: Start a fight, act up.

I’ve been working long hours lately so my cat Pooky gets quite possessive when I come back home. I can’t have a phone conversation without him acting up – the other day, running across the dining table as I was eating and talking on the phone, just to make a point, I’m sure!

So, to quote an Indian English phrase, What to do?!

If you’re in an attention-giving role: Give it. Make smart decisions about who and what needs your attention most. In the long run, in the big picture, is it your Blackberry or your kid?

If you’re in an attention-needing role: Ask for it. It’s OK, you don’t need to fight, act up, attack people just so they will notice you. There are plenty of kind people out there who will sit down to have a loving, heart-to-heart conversation with you. You don’t even have to pay them. You just need to get over your ego and open your heart enough so you can find them.

If you’re in the communication professions (PR, marketing, advertising): Be responsible. Don’t do society a disservice by adding to the cacophony unnecessarily. That’s not going to get you attention. Be smart, be judicious, imagine you have a limited “communication & messaging” account and use it wisely to communicate important, valuable, useful information. Sometimes being quiet will get you attention.

As a college student in Romania, once a year, I’d attend the International Advertising Festival. I’d pay half my monthly income on a ticket to sit and watch back-to-back commercials all night long (9 pm – 5 am). I’ve done this 2-3 years in a row, and guess what commercial got my attention and stayed with me to this day, more than 10 years later? This one stood out among the cacophony of voices, among the visual and auditory assault on the senses:

  • Blank white screen.
  • Line-drawn piglet shuffles on screeen.
  • Stops in the center, stares at you, blinks.
  • Oinks.
  • Text bubble: Why are you staring at me? Go to a museum.

I believe it was an ad paid for by the Serbian Art Federation.

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The way we are

Wired man

This is an old NY Times article (ancient, in Internet time) but I think it does a scary job of describing many of us super-connected,

multitasking “speed demons:”

These speed demons say they will fall behind if they disconnect, but they also acknowledge feeling something much more powerful: they are compulsively drawn to the constant stimulation provided by incoming data. Call it O.C.D. — online compulsive disorder.

[…]

Pseudo-ADD: They become frustrated with long-term projects, thrive on the stress of constant fixes of information, and physically crave the bursts of stimulation from checking e-mail or voice mail or answering the phone.

[…]

”It’s like a dopamine squirt to be connected,” said Dr. Ratey, who compares the sensations created by constantly being wired to those of narcotics — a hit of pleasure, stimulation and escape. ”It takes the same pathway as our drugs of abuse and pleasure.”

[…]

”It’s an addiction,” he said, adding that some people cannot deal with down time or quiet moments. ”Without it, we are in withdrawal.”

”Ten years ago, you had to be in the office 12 hours,” said Mr. Mehlman, who said he now spent 10 hours a day at work, giving him more time with his wife and three children, while also making use of his wireless-enabled laptop, BlackBerry and mobile phone.

Do you see the irony? He doesn’t work 12 hours, he works “only” 10, that’s so much more time with his family!

On playing with his son (dogfight with Lego airplanes):

Both love the game, and it has an added benefit for Dad: he can play with one hand while using the other to talk on the phone or check e-mail. […] ”While he rebuilds his plane, I check my e-mail on the BlackBerry,” Mr. Mehlman explained.

Children want and need their parents’ full & undivided attention. I feel so sad for this kid.

But honestly, does this article describe you? I know it does me. I have the urge to check email and twitter at every stop light. I get bored and need some input during that “down time.”

How do you manage your attention? Do you ever give the most precious gift – your full and undivided attention to something or someone? Care to share?

When I teach my students social media, am I contributing to creating an addiction?  Do I also have the responsibility to teach them how to manage their attention? How do I do that? How do you do that?

[image credit: Wired Man, by flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]

[Update, 12:33 pm: Should have mentioned that This NYT article was referred to in a Zencast podcast, podcast #170 on Learning to Listen deeply. Also on iTunes.]

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